Contemplating "Plan B": What Do We Do If Bynum Never Plays and Then Leaves?

Contemplating "Plan B": What Do We Do If Bynum Never Plays and Then Leaves?

There's been a whole lot of talk about "Plan A" lately—the term Sixers
GM Tony DiLeo has used when discussing the Sixers' efforts to re-sign
Andrew Bynum in the off-season. Though DiLeo and team CEO Adam Aron have
backed off their commitment to "Plan A" a little given the increasingly
dire state of Bynum's injury and recovery progress, it still appears to
be their preferred course of action. This is fair, and if their doctors
(hopefully better ones than the last time around) give him the OK, even
after all we've gone through with Bynum this year, it still makes sense
that we'd try to bring him back—possibly on a max contract, possibly
for multiple years.


But rather than argue that, for this column, let's say that the team
decides not to go after Bynum. Let's say that they do a cost-benefit
analysis and deicde that the risk is just too high for the amount it'll
take to sign him, that the chances are just too low he'll be healthy and
productive for enough of a period of whatever contract he'd command to
make it worth putting all our chips in on him. And much as I still hope
we can make it work with Bynum (and think we should try), I don't
believe we should give him $100 million for five years if the chances
are minimal that he's gonna be fully healthy and productive for even one
of them. If we gotta walk away, then we gotta walk away.


But if walking away is the answer, then that will just lead to a
whole lot of further questions for the Liberty Ballers. With Bynum
officially out of the team's plans, the Sixers will still have a decent
amount of cap space, a couple very good trade assets, a handful of
players about to come off contract, and a gaping hole at center. It's an
intriguing mix, and there are a number of directions the Sixers can go
with it—none as satisfying as the Sixers maxing out Bynum, him regaining
his All-Star form and leading the Sixers to several championships with
everyone staying happy forever, but all with at least the slightest bit
of potential. Let's go over what they are, with our personal preference
at article's end.


Plan B1: Try to plug the hole at center with a big-name free agent. If
their incumbent big-name center isn't a viable option, perhaps the
Sixers will pursue another. Unfortunately, there's only a couple real
difference-makers besides Bynum available at this position, and the
biggest one (Dwight Howard) isn't terribly likely to consider a
sub-.500, mid-market team like the Sixers as a potential landing spot.
The only real All-Star (or borderline All-Star) caliber talent available
here is Jazz center Al Jefferson, a very productive post scorer (though
an occasional liability on defense) who the Sixers could conceivably
land with the $12 million or so the team will have in cap space, though
it's possible he'll command more on the open market.


Jefferson would give the Sixers their best, most consistent big-man
scorer in decades, though at at age 28 and with relatively unremarkable
athleticism, his ceiling is far lower than Bynum's. He would help the
team's floor balance significantly, but not make such a difference as to
catapult the Sixers into instant contention. But with Jefferson, plus
another year's development from our young core and a relatively high
pick in the draft to add to the rotation, it's possible the team could
push to the lower-middle region of the post-season picture in the East,
an understandably attractive idea to Sixers brass after the unmitigated
disaster of this season.


Plan B2: Draft a center, go after a difference-maker on the perimeter in free agency.
A cheaper and possibly higher-upside play for the Sixers than going
after a center on the open market would be to take one in the draft,
with their first-round pick likely to end in the #6-10 range. There
should be a number of interesting big men available in that
range—possibly not Nerlens Noel, who'll likely go top five, but possibly
Maryland big man Alex Len, a legit seven-footer with shot-blocking
skill and impressive mobility (though a bit of a raw game offensively),
as well as Indiana's Cody Zeller, a one-time number-one pick contender
whose stock has fallen some due to unremarkable play and positional
concerns up front. Neither is likely to be a star for the Sixers from
Day One, but either—particularly Len—could be a good long-term play for
Philly.


Meanwhile, worrying about the center position in the draft allows
the Sixers to try to fill holes elsewhere on the court in free agency.
There's not a ton of top perimeter talent on the market this summer, but
a reliable shooter like JJ Redick or OJ Mayo could give the team a
dimension they've been badly missing since Jason Rcihardson's injury,
and another young-ish player to augment the team's growing core. Again,
as with Jefferson, nobody here is likely to make the Sixers a contender,
but respectability is certainly not out of the question here.


Plan B3: Package assets for a big man in a trade. This is
pretty speculative,of course, but the Sixers will not be without trade
assets this off-season—they'll have Evan Turner on the last year of his
rookie deal, Thaddeus Young locked up for three remaining years on a
very reasonable contract, and the draft pick they'll get for their
tanking efforts, as well as the expiring deals of Spencer Hawes and
Kwame Brown. They could certainly attempt to package a handful of these
assets to try to pry loose a big man already on another team—like,
y'know, what they did to get the Funny-Looking Kid With the big Hair the
off-season prior. Maybe they can get LaMarcus Aldridge from the
Blazers? Maybe the Cavs would part with Anderson Varejao? Maybe the Jazz
would part with one of their young giants in a deal for perimeter
talent?


Of course, such deals are rare in the NBA—the Sixers were "lucky
enough" to pull one off last summer, but two in a row could be tough—and
they already gave up so many assets in the Bynum deal that the team may
be gunshy about attempting another one so quickly. But if the Sixers
don't like what they see from the free-agnet crop and are determined to
add an impact player this off-season by hook or by crook, trade might be
a more productive way to do so.


Plan B4: Try to work a sign-and-trade with Bynum to return assets.
As the team employing him on the verge of free agency, the Sixers still
have the advantage of being able to offer Bynum more money than anybody
else. So if he decides that he really wants to go to Dallas or Houston
or wherever, we can try to work out a sign-and-trade deal that results
in Bynum wearing a different uniform, but gives us some combination of
players, draft picks and trade exceptions for our effort. This could be
especially beneficial for an asset-rich team like the Rockets, who might
be willing to part with their now-redundant center Omer Asik in an
S&T, and/or possibly their troubled big man Royce White,  a solid
low-cost, high-upside play for the talent-strapped Sixers.


To an extent, this is something of a pipe dream—S&Ts rarely
result in the signing team getting even close to equal value for the
free agent, and usually just end up with teams getting low draft picks,
cap filler, and massive trade exceptions. Still, it's better than
nothing, and anything the Sixers could get in return for Bynum might
help assisting the rebuilding process. We'll need all the help we can
get at that point, certainly.


Plan B5: Stay put, liquidate all non-essential assets and try again next off-season.
As is often the case in the NBA, the best move to make this off-season
might be to not make one at all. The Sixers could, in theory, hold on to
their draft pick, play out the string with Turner and Hawes, try to
unload J-Rich's contract (and if need be, Thad's as well) stay flexible
with their cap space and spend another season as a likely lottery team.
At the end of it all, they'd have another (likely high) draft pick to
work with, they'd have another year's worth of on-and-off-court evidence
to decide whether or not Evan Turner is worth extending, and they'd
potentially have enough cap space to be a big player in the 2014 free
agent class, which is already being tabbed as potentially being on the
level of the famous 2010 class (and really will be if one or more of the
Heat's Big Three decide to opt out).


Staying patient another year in the NBA is always a tough sell,
especially to a fanbase coming off a disappointment as massive as this
year's Sixers campaign, and for a team CEO as desperately eager to do
right as Adam Aron. But in the NBA, if you're not gonna be contending,
you need to stay flexible, so that when a difference-maker becomes
available, you have the assets and cap space available to land him. (It
worked once for the Sixers, even if it ended up not really working at
all.)


Personally, I think Plans B2 and B5 are our best courses of action,
with B4 being a tantalizing idea if the circumstances work out just so. I
definitely don't want to tie up our cap space in a low-upside, Al
Jefferson-type play, but if the Sixers can add a mid-level shooter to
better the team in the short-term while leaving them flexible in the
long-term as we groom our center of the future, that seems like a decent
best-of-both-worlds option for the Sixers.


But of course, these are all still lousy alternatives to what we
thought we were getting when we traded three players and a draft pick
for Andrew Bynum last August. If there's any decent-ish chance of
getting some kind of production out of Bynum moving forward, I'd still
like to see if that trade can be redeemed. But if it's not...well, at
least we have options. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence would
probably find a way to stay upbeat about it, anyway.

Sixers' future payroll: Flexibility, Robert Covington prioritized over Nerlens Noel

Sixers' future payroll: Flexibility, Robert Covington prioritized over Nerlens Noel

As the Sixers were expending all of their energy Monday night trying to stay with the 50-9 Warriors, Nerlens Noel was down in Dallas contributing to a Mavericks win, their second in a row since acquiring him at the trade deadline.

In two games off the bench for the Mavs, Noel has played a combined 55 minutes, scored 15 points with 16 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, made 6 of 11 buckets and 3 of 4 free throws.

He's played crucial minutes down the stretch in both games for Dallas, helping them at the defensive end even on plays in which he doesn't affect a shot. His length, activity and paint-roaming ability is why the Mavs traded Justin Anderson and two second-round picks for a half-season of Noel and his restricted free-agent match rights this summer.

The Noel trade has already been analyzed to death at this point, so this won't be another examination of whether the Sixers got enough in return or what they should have done.

Since the trade was clearly about the contract Noel will receive this summer and the Sixers' unwillingness to allocate so much money to the center position, let's take a look at the Sixers' finances moving forward.

Next season's payroll
The NBA salary cap spiked to $94 million last offseason and is expected to take a smaller jump to about $100 million this summer.

As of now, the Sixers have $48,077,210 committed to the 2017-18 payroll.

* Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson are due $9 million each.

* Ben Simmons will make just under $6.2 million, and Joel Embiid will make $6.1 million.

* Jahlil Okafor is owed just under $5 million, Nik Stauskas $3.8 million, and Dario Saric $2.4 million.

* Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and T.J. McConnell will all make between $1 million and $1.6 million.

* And the Sixers will pay $500,000 of dead money to Tibor Pleiss, who they immediately waived after acquiring from the Jazz last August for Kendall Marshall and a swap of second-round picks.

That leaves the Sixers with $52 million to spend.

How will they spend it?
Based on recent history, don't expect the Sixers to spend every last dollar in the offseason. They are focused on improving the team while not crippling its future, and Bryan Colangelo accomplished that goal somewhat this season by signing Henderson and acquiring Ersan Ilyasova early in the season.

The Bayless signing did not work out this year -- he's out for the season with a wrist injury -- but he's on the books the next two years at $9 million a pop.

Expect to see those kinds of moves made by the Sixers, unless they're able to identify a free agent young enough, good enough, and enough of a fit to sign to a long-term deal.

Guys who might potentially fit that description?

* Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Pistons
* Otto Porter of the Wizards
* Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Hawks
* Ian Clark of the Warriors
* Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans
* Jeff Teague of the Pacers (maybe)

Clark, Holiday and Teague are unrestricted free agents; the others are restricted. So if the Sixers were to offer KCP or Porter $80 million over four years, the Pistons and Wizards would have the opportunity to match. If they do, the Sixers wouldn't get them.

Of course, those teams would have to have enough money to re-sign them. That's where the Sixers' ample payroll space comes into play.

KCP and Porter seem like locks to get max contracts in the $20 million-plus per year range. Holiday and Teague may or may not get that much; it will be determined by how the point-guard market plays out.

Clark and Hardaway Jr. would require lesser commitments because they're currently role players with the potential to grow into more.

Joel Embiid's inevitable extension
The Sixers are going to need to max out Embiid in the near future. Although he's played only 31 games in three NBA seasons, those three years count contractually.

The last guaranteed year of Embiid's rookie contract is next season. After that, he's a lock to make $25 million per year, provided he's healthy. 

In similar positions, C.J. McCollum got $106 million over four years from the Blazers, and Hassan Whiteside got $98 million over four years from the Heat.

The Sixers could sign Embiid to such an extension before Oct. 31, 2017, but it wouldn't go into effect until the 2018-19 season. 

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Two seasons from right now.

The eventual Embiid max contract will not cripple the Sixers financially. They'll still have a lot of wiggle room.

Why? Because of how few long-term commitments they have. 

For example, Henderson makes $9 million next season but is then a free agent. So if Embiid gets $25 million per year, the net is $16 million of additional payroll once you account for Henderson's expiring deal.

If the Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor between now and 2018, that would trim $6.3 million more from their 2018-19 payroll.

So, looking ahead to 2018-19, the Sixers would have $55 million committed to Embiid (max deal), Bayless, Simmons, Okafor, Saric, Anderson, TLC, Holmes and McConnell.

Missing from that equation is Covington, who will be an unrestricted free agent that summer. If Covington keeps playing like he has, racking up steals, hitting threes, improving in the lane and defending the best perimeter player every night, he's going to be in line for a contract in the $15 million per year range.

So, for the sake of logic, let's add Covington's $15 million to that 2018-19 payroll and subtract Okafor's. That would put the Sixers at about $64 million of payroll commitments two years from now, leaving them around $36 million to $40 million of cap space to sign free agents.

In 2018, the Sixers theoretically will be closer to actually contending, and free agents will be more realistic and meaningful. 

This is why the Sixers traded Ilyasova, for example. He's a free agent this summer and could command an annual salary in the $12M to $15M range given the scarcity of available stretch-fours. If the Sixers kept him and re-signed him, they might not have enough money down the road to pay Covington, a younger and more important player.

That 2018 free-agent class is not extremely appealing -- it's highlighted by Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe, Derrick Favors, Avery Bradley and C.J. Miles.

A few of those guys, like Thomas, won't even reach free agency -- they'll be extended ahead of it.

Mentioning that only to point out that the Sixers' options in free agency this summer might be better than their options next summer.

So ... did they need to trade Noel?
Some think Noel is going to get $20 million per year in free agency. 

I personally think his contract will be more in the $17 million per year range, a figure in between the annual average salaries for Timofey Mozgov ($16M), Tristan Thompson ($16.4M), Joakim Noah ($18M) and Ryan Anderson ($20M).

In any event, it's going to be a pricey contract for Noel.

So, how would a contract of say, four years, $68 million for Noel have affected the future payroll numbers laid out above?

It would mean that with Embiid's max deal, with Covington re-signed to a higher number, with Noel here and with Okafor traded, the Sixers would have around $79 million committed to payroll, leaving them about $20 million free to spend.

That would be enough for one really good-but-not-great player. Or they could try to creatively move a few contracts and line themselves up for a great player. 

But consider then that in 2018-19, Ben Simmons will be in the position Embiid is in now. Simmons would be in the third year of his rookie deal and eligible for a max extension before Oct. 31 of that year.

The numbers just do not add up.

I hated the Noel trade because I thought they should have gotten more, but dealing him did indeed make financial sense.

If the Sixers chose to keep Noel and re-sign him, they could have had a 2018-19 core of: Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Noel, Covington, Holmes, McConnell, TLC, and either a few mid-tier free agents or one star.

That could be a solid core if everyone continues developing at their own rate and if Embiid and Simmons can stay on the court ... but the Sixers wouldn't have many options. The goal is a championship and that probably isn't a championship core.

The $17 million or so of savings from not keeping Noel will be very important then. 

In a way, the Sixers essentially chose Covington over Noel.

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Ian Rapoport for the NFL Network reports the Chicago Bears are not expected to place the franchise tag on free-agent wide receiver Alshon Jeffery before the March 1 deadline. Meanwhile, league sources previously told Jason La Canfora for CBS Sports that they “anticipate” the Eagles “being in on” Jeffery should the 2013 Pro Bowler become accessible.

Put two and two together, and there are folks around the NFL who believe the Eagles will pursue Jeffery when free agency opens on March 9.

Yet while receiver is one of the Eagles’ two greatest needs this offseason, whether they should make a run at Jeffery and whether they can afford him might be two different answers. Getting another weapon for Carson Wentz seems like it will be the top priority in free agency, but doing so will not be cheap, and the club is up against the salary cap.

There’s little doubt the Eagles will reach out to Jeffery. Aside from the organization being known for always doing its due diligence with players, the 27-year-old is hands down the best option on the market. Over the 2013 and ’14 seasons, Jeffery averaged 87 receptions, 1,277 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per year. He’s dealt with injuries and a terrible supporting cast in the two years since, yet still managed to go over 800 yards receiving in each.

Jeffery has some baggage, specifically the four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy in 2016. Despite everything, only nine active players are averaging more than his 72.2 yards per game, and only 10 better than 15.0 yards per reception. The talent is undeniable, and with a quarterback of Wentz’s caliber throwing him the football, the sky is the limit.

The Eagles absolutely should pursue Jeffery. Actually signing him is where this begins to get tricky.

For starters, the Eagles are currently sitting at an estimated $9.69 million under the cap, according to OverTheCap.com. Only three teams are in worse shape. There may be more moves to free up space in the coming days, which will help, although even if they get that figure closer to $25 million through a series of trades and releases, the numbers are tight.

Jeffery collected $14.6 million under the franchise tag in ’16, and while he might not see quite that much annually on his next contract, it’s not out of line with expectations. Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant are all making $14 million or more per season. Jeffery may not have the body of work of those players, but as the top receiver available, the market will value him and be willing to pay as such.

That $25 million the Eagles can theoretically free up might be the best case scenario. It likely won’t be that, which means signing Jeffery would take up practically all of their cap space for ’17. Obviously, there are ways to structure a contract to push money into future years, and the case could be made the Eagles don’t need to sign any other free agents.

No matter how you slice it, there are some logistical concerns here. Until the Eagles shed some of those contracts and we can see what they’re working with, it’s difficult to envision how they win a bidding war against suitors with upwards of $50, $60, even $70 million to spend.

It’s not so much a question of interest for the Eagles. It’s whether or not signing Jeffery is realistic in the first place.

Rating the Rumor: We’ll see